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Leave the Scripts to Actors

Sitting in the audience of a small business presentation, I held my breath as the speaker paused and then panicked. It was clear from the start that she had memorized her presentation. She was doing all right until one word escaped her. She repeated the sentence again, looking up to the ceiling, as if hoping that this time the forgotten word would magically fall from the heavens. It didn't happen. Upon reflection I am not sure who was more uncomfortable - she or the audience.

There are three problems with using scripts in a sales presentation- the first I just described. Each word and sentence is dependent on the previous word or sentence. Should the speaker get off script, recovery is difficult. The second problem is that the speaker's "head" is in the script and not fully present with the audience. This disrupts the personal connection. And the third problem is that it is usually obvious if someone has memorized what he or she is saying. This can compromise the speaker’s credibility by creating the impression that there is lack of depth and experience in the subject area.

Rather than memorize a script, I recommend to people that I coach that they write a script as they would ideally like to deliver it. I then have them read it aloud several times. Next, I ask that they create bullet points capturing the ideas important to communicate, and then practice delivering the presentation from the bullets. To ensure they do not default to memorizing, I have them practice communicating the bullets in different ways, using different words and phrases each time. My goal is to help them really be thoughtful about what it is that they want to communicate. This creates confidence and will ensure that they are being genuine and present with prospects.

I sometimes will make one exception to the "no memorizing" rule. It can be helpful to inexperienced and nervous presenters to memorize their first sentence. This often helps build confidence in those critical first moments allowing them to find their groove, so that they can effectively transition into being present for a thoughtful, and engaging discussion.

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